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Rice: The Final Frontier

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, our second installment on the staple that could start wars: rice. 


We’ll be clear about one thing: when you ask for tips about cooking rice, tips are not what you get. You get diehard positions, strong lines drawn in the sand, declarations of method delivered with the fervor of a political zealot. 

Rice, it seems, is a religion. 

It’s also, in the words of a wise intern, a trust issue. Putting that much faith in steam (and boiling water and, as you’ll see, ovens) can be troubling, as stressful as only putting a lid on a pot and leaving it promises to be. 

But there’s no need to settle on a life agnostic about rice -- it’s serious business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be mastered. Step into our office, have a seat, and let us air our rice quandaries together. 

A Note on Ratios, Rinsing, and Soaking 

By definition, ratios should be static. Rice, however, will prove that it wears many hats, and that a hat for mathematic consistency is not one of them. How to proceed? We use a standby ratio of 2:1, water to rice, for white varietals, and a 2 ¼:1 for brown. Or, you can take all of the math out of it, and use the finger method: put your pointer finger on the level of rice in your pot, and then fill it with water just until it hits your first knuckle. 


Rinsing removes surface starch on your rice, and is recommended to avoid added stickiness and, of course, to get rid of any impurities. Rice purists can agree: only use cold water, rinse until the water runs clear while swirling with your hand, and -- most important -- do not lose a single grain. 

If you want to decrease your cooking time and plump up your grains so they swell individually during cooking, soak them for 2-4 hours in cold water prior to cooking. Sprouting, as you’ll see below, is a different story.

Rice Cooker

This is our one and only appliance method. Its name doesn’t do it any favors, summoning the rice equivalent to making a cake in a “cake-baker”, but we urge you to give it a chance. Before you call this one a cheat, know that serious rice cooks everywhere swear by these little machines. Our developer and seasoned rice veteran Amanda Li unapologetically uses one, every time. (And we take her seriously. When asked for tips, she responded with a short tome, including this shirt, and a rap about rice.) Simply pour your rice and water in, and flip the on switch. In Amanda’s words, "whatever you do, do NOT open the rice cooker!" After it's cooked, some cooks fluff up the whole pot of rice to redistribute the moisture and then close the lid for at least another 10 minutes.” To reheat, just recook your rice: put it back in the cooker with an ounce of water per cup of rice, and repeat the arduous process of flipping that switch.

Steaming or Absorption Method

If you grew up in an American household, chances are this is how you were taught to cook rice. From atop a chair, you stood over the stove, watching the cook in your household bring water, a pinch of salt, maybe a pat of butter, maybe not, to a boil. When those glorious bubbles started forming (the longer you watched the pot, the longer it took), rice was poured in. All in one swift motion, the burner was turned down to a bare simmer and the pot was covered. When all of the water was absorbed (you watched for this too), the rice was fluffed with a fork and table-ready. If this describes your childhood rice memories, keep on steaming -- in the book of rice, this method is a classic. 


If you want to cook your rice the way James Beard did, boil it. In what he refers to as the “old fashioned” method, a large pot of salted water is brought to a boil, at which point the rice is tossed in a little at a time so the water’s boil is never halted. The rice is cooked until tender (about 15-20 minutes for white varietals), then drained, washed, and reheated with butter before serving. As an extension of this method, Meta Given suggests cooking rice in a double boiler. Essentially, it’s the absorption method over another source of steam for a much gentler cooking process. 

If you want to do things the traditional Iranian way, you're going to want to boil and steam. Perhaps the most sophisticated of all rice cookery, this method has you boil Basmati rice as if it were pasta, then, steaming takes the rice the rest of the way. But here’s the kicker: unlike Asian cooks who measure failure by the crustiness of rice, Food52 editor Nozlee Samadzadeh tells us that Iranian cooks are going for a gorgeous, crusty bottom layer, known as tahdig (literally translated as “bottom of the pot”). If a war could be started mid-meal, it would be over who gets the last piece of tahdig. For in-depth instruction on this method, go here, but if you’re really serious, send Nozlee a message -- her rice knowledge, comparatively, will make you feel as though you’ve only just heard of the stuff yesterday. 


This method masquerades under a few different names. Known as germinated rice, GABA, and also genmai rice, sprouted rice is brown rice that is allowed to germinate prior to cooking, and it’s the healthiest method of them all. 

Traditionally, cooks have been soaking grains for many years, so if you decide to sprout yours, think of it as going back to your rice roots. To increase the availability of your rice’s nutrients, just rinse, cover with water, and soak it overnight (or at least 12 hours.) You’ll rinse, drain, and cover with fresh water again, and then repeat this process every 12 hours for at least 24 and up to 48 hours. We can’t promise you’ll be able to run a marathon after, but your finished product will be nutty and more nutritious than your standard-issue steamed side. 

Oven method

Great for when you run out of space on your stovetop and for when your apartment feels a little cold, the oven method is maybe even easier than your classic steam. While your oven preheats to 375, set your rice in a shallow dish (anything with a lid will do), and boil your water. (If you like your rice to taste good, add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of butter at this juncture.) Pour boiling water over your rice, give it a quick stir, cover, and bake in your hot oven. 30 minutes will do the trick for white rice, but you’ll need a full 60 for brown. 

Or, use Amanda’s tried-and-true method and start everything on the stove. Once your water, rice, and pinch of salt come to a boil, cover it, and then it’s oven-bound for 17 minutes. Time it vigilantly, and don’t forget to fluff with a fork. 

Have another method for cooking rice? Share your genius in the comments below. Before we leave to set our rice pots on the stove, we can’t help echoing a grain of wisdom that James Beard once wrote, hiding within his recipe for rice the old fashioned way. He writes, simply, to just cook it to your favorite degree of tenderness. And therein lies the point: there may be rules, regulations, and rice experts lobbying for the superiority of their methods, but it’s still your stove. Steam -- or boil or sprout -- as you see fit. 

Tags: kitchen confidence, rice, cooking methods, how-to & diy

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